HATTIESBURG –Resurrection Catholic is one step closer to its first Region 8-1A title in eight years.
The Eagles secured a home game for the first round of the Class 1A playoffs after polishing off Sacred Heart 34-24 Friday night at Klein Field in a showdown between the region’s top two teams.
RCS improved to 7-1 overall, but more importantly 4-0 in the region, in handing the Crusaders (8-1, 3-1) their first defeat of the season. The Eagles now host Lumberton Thursday night with a shot at securing that league crown.
“I felt like the kids were disappointed in their first-half performance,” said acting head coach Scott Sisson. “In the locker room at halftime, they were 100 percent focused. They listened to all the coaches and did what we asked them to do.”
Sisson was in charge of the Eagles while head coach Eric Denmark was away this week at deacon’s school.
A rock-rimmed defensive struggle turned around in the third quarter, as Resurrection took advantage of two fumbles and a long kick return to take a commanding lead into the fourth quarter.
“I thought our defense was a little flat early,” said Sisson. “Sacred Heart had a good offensive scheme, but once we made the adjustments with our defensive line and linebackers, we ”
After both teams started the game by going three-and-out, SH took over after a short punt at midfield and got as far as the Eagle 8-yard line before the drive stalled, resulting in a 25-yard field goal from freshman Austin Nguyen.
A fake punt that failed gave RCS an opportunity to drive a short field, and the Eagles didn’t waste it.
Starting at the Crusaders 39, senior quarterback Luke Schnoor connected with senior tailback Daniel Pickens for a 16-yard play, then the pair hooked up again to convert a third down with a 10-yard play.
Pickens got the touchdown – the first of four rushing scores on the night – on fourth down with a 2-yard burst up the middle.
That was pretty much it for the Eagle offense in the first half, as Sacred Heart held RCS to just 56 yards and only four first downs.
“They were doing a good job of controlling themselves, while we were getting down on ourselves in the first half,” said Schnoor. “We were just beating ourselves up.
“But as soon as we got to the second and made some corrections, it was over for them. We just came together and played as one.”
The Crusaders answered with their best drive of the night, a brisk six-play, 71-yard play, keyed by a 34-yard pass from junior Kyron Murphy to junior Adam Sneed and an 18-yard scamper by senior D.J. Booth.
Booth put SH ahead 10-7 with a 3-yard run midway through the second quarter.
Resurrection had a chance to score in the final minute of the first half after a blocked punt gave the Eagles the ball at the SH 20.
RCS appeared to score on the first play after
the turnover on a pass from Schnoor to Pickens, but Pickens was flagged for offensive pass interference, and a 51-yard field goal on the final play of the half came up short.
“We just had to stay focused,” said Pickens. “Obviously, it’s a big game, a big rivalry. So we just had to keep our focus and play our game.”
It looked like more of the same after the Eagles went three-and-out with the first possession of the second half, but on the second play after giving up the ball Hinkle pounced on a fumble near midfield, and that changed the whole tenor of the game.
“We came out looking to explode on offense in the second half, and it didn’t happen,” said Hinkle. “So we knew the defense had to step up and that’s what we did. That fumble was huge for us.”
Schnoor capped a five-play, 54-yard drive with a 25-yard run off left tackle to put RCS ahead 14-10.
“At halftime, we talked about if we punch them in the face right out the gate, we knew we’d be fine,” said Schnoor. “And that’s what we did. It was amazing to watch.”
That lead lasted all of 26 seconds, as junior Gary Duckworth took the kickoff 94 yards before being run down at the 1-yard-line. Booth took care of that yard on the next play to give the Crusaders the lead right back.
But the Eagles would not be denied. Senior Jaylen Harper took a squib kickoff and motored 55 yards to the SH 13. Pickens converted a fourth down at the 2-yard-line, then crashed in from there to put RCS ahead for good.
“They did their homework, studied the film, and had a good plan the first half,” said Pickens. “They were calling out a couple of our plays, where they read the formation. But we went into halftime and made some key changes and they worked in the second half.”
It was a tale of two halves for Pickens, who finished with 93 yards on 19 carries, all but three of those yards coming in the second half.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the way our kids responded after they had the big kickoff return, then we turned right around and got a big one of our own,” said Sisson. “I thought that was the turning point of the game.
“Then our offensive line; we had a long talk with them at halftime and worked out some blocking schemes and I feel like we were able to drive the ball and burn the clock to seal the deal.”
Resurrection got the ball right back, recovering another Crusader fumble at the 39-yard-line on the first play after the kickoff, and this time it was Pickens with the big scoring burst, on a 20-yard run off left guard.
And Booth was held in check in the second half, finishing with 87 yards on 19 runs, but only had 16 yards on six carries in the second half.
“We knew we had a strong run defense, so we knew if we could get rid of their run game, make them throw, then we could defend their pass pretty well,” said Hinkle. “I thought we did that in the second half.”
Indeed, the Eagles held the Crusaders to just 10 completions in 26 passing attempts for 129 yards.
Resurrection put the hammer down in the fourth quarter, with a soul-sapping 11-play, 83-yard drive that consumed nearly seven minutes of the clock. Pickens got his fourth score of the night with a 2-yard run.
Sacred Heart responded with a 71-yard, eight-play scoring drive, with Murphy connecting with sophomore Chris Posey for an 18-yard scoring pass on fourth down.
The Crusaders got the ball right back with a successful onside kick, but senior Haydn Porter sealed the deal with an interception.
The Eagles still have work to do to secure the region title, as they host Lumberton next Thursday in the regular-season finale, needing a win to avoid a three-way tie for the top spot in the region.
“We’re going to have to get used to this kind of game if we want the chance to move forward in the postseason,” said Sisson. “They’re all going to be like this.”